A Black Ink Oddity
On the day of her deceased sister's birthday, Billie tries to use her inky impulses to overcome her guilt and demons.
There are seven billion people on this planet, and I always have to remind myself that every one of them live each day in seven billion different ways. I’ve developed an indispensable way to remind myself of this fact; I scribble words across the edge of my arm every morning. With my pen outlining the blue veins climbing my arm, important words marry my skin, and recently—especially since my sister’s funeral—I don’t feel inclined to washing it off. I like writing notes on the back of my hand. I’m not a forgetful person or anything, and it’s not as though I don’t know how to use the notes app in my phone. I am comforted by the act of swiftly moving my hand across my own skin. It affirms something that typing on a phone could never achieve. Before my sister passed, I liked to write my grocery list across my fingers or note phone numbers on the edge of my wrists. Every so often, I liked to paint on my arms—in black ink—the curves of a fortifying building or a tree that dips sideways. But after my sister died, I’ve been writing notes across my arm like a detective that scribbles the details of a crime scene in his notepad; I like to remind myself that I must justify why I deserve to be here. And today, on her birthday, I write a note: find the brown bull, and then burn it.
She was born in May—on Mother’s Day—and she was always my parent’s favorite child. I don’t harbor animosity towards them for their (obvious) doting ways. It wasn’t as though it was ill-assigned. She was beyond the love that was given to her. She deserved more. They named her after their favorite flower, Lily. And for myself, well, they named me Billie. If that isn’t the first indication of latent favoritism, I don’t know what is. To their credit, though, they didn’t know me yet. But they didn’t mind reminding me, whether it be during dinner or after a little league soccer game, that they “accidentally” became pregnant. Nonetheless, on May 8th I received the usual text from my mother that I should’ve put flowers on her grave. Somehow, she thought it was “un-sisterly” of me to forgo dressing her grave with flowers. I gave up that tradition two years ago. Though my parents would never believe me, visiting her grave became futile. Lily visits me every night. I don’t have to miss her because she sits beside me. Well, that is, not in the flesh, but she’s there under the hood of my consciousness. And her presence is exhausted by the usual dose of dope that I fill my veins with. To celebrate her birthday, I’m listening to David Bowie’s “A Space Oddity” until my eyes are ready to close and my thoughts are unfurling into rose-colored dreams. It was the song we scream-shouted in the car together. Bowie was her favorite. His face decorated the walls of her room, and she even dressed as him for Halloween.
Sitting on the edge of my couch, I hunch over a needle. As my shaking hands hover over it, my arms begin to bleed black ink. I forgot to wash my notes from my skin again, so ink began dripping from the edges of my freckled arms.
Ground control to Major Tom…
I need a shot. I need to see her. After all, it is her birthday. But as I neared the needle to a visible vein, my mother’s name appears on my phone screen, and a blaring ring echoes across the empty spaces in my home. Groaning and throwing the needle to the table, I answer. And boy, do I regret answering. She begins howling at me like I’m the moon and she’s a wild wolf.
Commencing countdown, engines on…
“What do you want?! Stop calling me! Jesus!”
The voice on the other line collects the air in between deep growls. My mother has always been dramatic.
She breathes out, “Why aren’t you at your sister’s grave today? Your father and I thought we’d see you here. I mean, it isn’t as though you could be bothered to even move your lazy ass from your couch, but it is your sister for crying out loud. Your only sister!”
Click. I throw my phone across the room, shattering it against a white wall now scuffed with black. Inhaling, I stick the needle into my vein and lean back against the wall. Breathing out, colors from another dimension flood my subconscious. Then, she appeared.
Placing her hands on her hip and using the door frame as a fulcrum to turn, she says, “Billie, you ought to take better care of yourself.”
She finds a seat next to me on the couch. I unsheathe a loud and long laugh.
“Oh, I didn’t know that even in death, you could still be better than me.”
She laughs, and pulls the needle from my hand. Placing it on the table, she turns to me and asks, “Do you remember when we first decided that this was our song?”
“Not really. I don’t remember much of anything anymore.”
“You were going through something. I don’t remember what—your ‘college thing,’ remember?”
“I think so, actually. I began writing on my wrists.”
“You know why.”
“What was it again?”
“I forgot your birthday.” I slowly sigh.
“Every damn year. You just forgot my birthday. And I was your favorite sister!”
She throws her head back and laughs. I follow. The rippling sound of Bowie’s voice continues to echo through the room.
Planet Earth is blue. And there's nothing I can do…
“And what did I tell you then that you keep wiping off your arm now?”
“That you’re a massive loser?”
She furrows her brows, and stares stoically.
I roll my eyes. “Something about people and earth.”
“You write these things all over your body, but you still can’t seem to understand what the words are saying.”
“I know what the words—”
“—You don’t know anything.”
“That’s just completely wrong.”
“After I died, you wrote quotes on your arms to remind yourself why you deserve to be alive? Right?”
I shift in my seat and turn away. But she follows my eyes.
“When are you going to stop hurting yourself with needles or whatever else you do to reaffirm your hate for yourself? When are you going to realize that you don’t have to justify why you deserve to be alive? You’re a human being—one in seven billion—and no one knows what it is like to be you or feel what you feel. So stop hurting yourself because you’re not me.”
“Didn’t anyone teach you that addiction isn’t something you just stop doing?”
“I’m not done. Stop trying to prove you’re a bad person. And stop trying to remind yourself why I was always the person everyone seemed to love and not you.”
“I love these nightly 'A Christmas Carol' type of pep talks, but you’ve really outdone yourself tonight. Go away now.”
“You don’t have to blame yourself for the bull. It was never your fault.”
I shutter and turn the knob on the stereo to the right, increasing the numbness the low hum of a bass perpetuates through my home.
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go…
From one end of the room to the other—like a ghost hiding in the darkness and reappearing in the light—Lily suddenly appears in the corner of the room, huddling near the TV. As I walk to her, I trip over clothes and trash. She laughs as I stumble next her. There’s always this part in the night—when Lily visits—where the world goes silent. The aching echo of nothingness haunts my space, and I watch the emptiness of the room collide. Shadows jump from the edges of each wall, and words that I ink on my skin fall upon them. Lily watches the stereo as Bowie’s song continues to turn. Then she pulls a polaroid photograph from her pocket. Unfurling the crumpled image, she reveals a picture of a bull and a girl. It’s Lily, sitting on the edge of a wooden stump with a bull next to her. Frowning, I take the photo and put it on the table, nearing the needle of my demise. As the silence tightens, she leans her head on my shoulder and begins to fall asleep.
Whispering, I spoke, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
The picture was taken on her eighteenth birthday. She had been living with my grandparents on their farm when a domesticated brown bull emerged from a pasture and trampled her. It was my parent’s worst nightmare; a daughter who died and the other that caused it. Lily had only been with my grandparents because I was detoxing again, and my parents didn’t want her to know.
Planet Earth is blue. And there's nothing I can do…
Under the pressure of gravity, I feel the weight of her death press against my chest. While tears escape from the edges of my eyes, I write: there are seven billion people on this planet, and each one experiences this life in seven billion different ways. My arms begin to bleed black ink again from the waterfall of tears snaking down my neck onto my arms. But it didn’t matter; I was going to wipe it off and write it again tomorrow. Maybe I’ll even try to tattoo it.
Thank you for reading :)